Counselor’s Corner: Being Polite – When Manners Don’t Matter

Micro-Aggressions revolve around Intention and Impact. In too many scenarios there is a dismissive and callous approach to stereotypical statements, racial jokes, and obvious offensiveness.

Yesterday in Target a lady and a man waved at my son. He did not wave back (which is unusual for him I usually have to remind him not to talk to strangers). They continued to wave and being behind us in line I did not see the harm in him saying hello back. I said “Can you say hi? They said hi to you.”
He looked me deep in my eye and said: “Mommy, I don’t want to.”

I went against my better judgment of listening to my child and opted for politeness.

I said, “You know I realize we don’t talk to strangers, but mommy is right here and you do not want to be rude.”
He said hi to the man and lady. The man was awesome, jovial, kind. He seemed grateful for the casual and light interaction while he waited for his purchases to be added to the conveyor belt. 
The woman gave a slight sneer (Being a therapist I am trained to notice all body language, whether I tell you or not, I see what you do not say.) She cocked her head to one side and said. “You know you have awfully curly hair.”
My son said nothing but stared at her blankly.
I began to feel my heart race. I thought “Oh no!”
She continued “Your hair is different than hers.” She pointed towards me. I narrowed my eyes and hoped that telepathically she would hear me telling her to stop talking. She continued. “Her hair is straight so whoever did you (emphasis on you) get that head full of curly hair.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm and falsehood. She continued to get closer to him as I continued to pull the cart away. I knew that if she put her hand in his hair (which her nonverbal movement symbolized) I would not know how to handle it.
As you all know we celebrate our differences in my family, but this woman was not right! Her attempt was to belittle and shame. I finally felt my voice begin to speak.
“In our home we value differences and we have a multicultural family.” I then turned to my son and said “I should have listened to you when you said that did not want to talk…sorry sometimes mommy gets it wrong.”
“Why did you not want to talk to her.” I asked.
He said “Mommy she was definitely a stranger and she was dangerous.”
I obviously still have a lot to learn.

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